Independence of Papua New Guinea, 1975 – Fact sheet 261

The nation of Papua New Guinea achieved its independence from Australia on 16 September 1975. Officiating at the main ceremony held in Port Moresby were His Royal Highness Prince Charles, Prince of Wales (representing Queen Elizabeth II, the British monarch); Sir John Kerr, Governor-General of Australia; Australian Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam; and Chief Minister of Papua New Guinea, Michael Somare, who became the country's first Prime Minister. The new country became a constitutional monarchy with membership of the British Commonwealth.

Australian administration, 1906–75

Papua New Guinea was administered by Australia as a single territory from 1945. It comprised the former British protectorate of Papua – which had been an Australian territory since 1906 – and the former German colony of New Guinea, which became Australia's responsibility as a Mandated Territory of the League of Nations (1921–42) and a United Nations Trust Territory following World War II.

Territory administration was the responsibility of an Australian Government Administrator who reported to the Australian Department of External Territories (Department of Territories, 1951–68) and, from 1973, to the Papua New Guinea Office. From 1951, the Administrator was assisted by an appointed Legislative Council, which in 1964 was replaced by an elected House of Assembly. As a prelude to independence, Papua New Guinea became a self-governing territory on 1 December 1973.

Records about the independence of Papua New Guinea

The National Archives holds a wide range of records documenting the processes that led to Papua New Guinea independence. These include records of key agencies such as the Department of External Territories (and Territories), Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and the Attorney-General’s Department. Photographs of independence day ceremonies and celebrations are also held.

Record series relating to Papua New Guinea independence

A selection of the National Archives holdings is listed below by series. You can find records of interest using RecordSearch – search using the series number shown and narrow results by using keywords such as 'papua new guinea' and 'papua new guinea independence'.

Administrative files

Department of External Territories / Department of Territories / Papua New Guinea Office (CA 1579)

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesCorrespondence files1901–81A452

Department of External Affairs / Foreign Affairs (CA 5987)

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesCorrespondence files1914–93A1838

Australian High Commission, Port Moresby (CA 7733)

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesCorrespondence files1965–ongoingA9334

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (CA 1401)

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesCorrespondence files1903–ongoingA463
SeriesCorrespondence files (classified)1913–ongoingA1209
SeriesWhitlam ministries – Cabinet submissions1972–75A5915
SeriesWhitlam ministries – Cabinet files1972–75A5931

Attorney-General’s Department (CA 5)

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesCorrespondence files1901–ongoingA432
SeriesCorrespondence files (classified)1973–74A5034

Photographs

Australian Information Service (CA 1578)

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesBlack and white photographic negatives1953–76A1501
SeriesContact print albums for VIP visits and other important occasions1954–ongoingA8281
SeriesBlack and white photographic negatives and prints1971–ongoingA6180
SeriesColour photographic negatives1971–ongoingA8746

Selected records about Papua New Guinea independence

Key selected records held by the National Archives, many from the series given above, are listed below.

Collection references

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
ItemPapua New Guinea – Constitutional process for granting self-government or independence1962–65A432, 1962/3185
ItemPapua New Guinea – future association with Australia on self-government or independence1965–66A452, 1965/3353
ItemPreparation of Territory of Papua New Guinea for independence as a united country1970–73A1209, 1971/9229
ItemPapua New Guinea – independence1972–74A452, 1973/205
ItemPapua New Guinea – relations with Australia – transitional arrangements up to Independence1971–72A1838, 3080/10/1 part 1
ItemPapua New Guinea – relations with Australia – transitional arrangements up to Independence1972A1838, 3080/10/1 part 2
ItemPapua New Guinea – relations with Australia – transitional arrangements up to Independence1972–73A1838, 3080/10/1 part 3
ItemPapua New Guinea – relations with Australia – transitional arrangements up to Independence1973–74A1838, 3080/10/1 part 4
ItemPapua New Guinea – relations with Australia – transitional arrangements up to Independence1974A1838, 3080/10/1 part 5
ItemPapua New Guinea – relations with Australia – transitional arrangements up to Independence1974A1838, 3080/10/1 part 6
ItemPapua New Guinea – relations with Australia – transitional arrangements up to Independence1974–75A1838, 3080/10/1 part 7
ItemPapua New Guinea – relations with Australia – transitional arrangements up to Independence1975A1838, 3080/10/1 part 8
ItemPapua New Guinea – relations with Australia – transitional arrangements up to Independence1975A1838, 3080/10/1 part 9
ItemLegal aspects of Papua New Guinea independence – general1975–86A1838, 1490/17/1 part 4
ItemPapua New Guinea – Independence celebrations1974–75A1838, 3080/1/1/4/1 part 1
ItemPapua New Guinea – Independence celebrations1975A1838, 3080/1/1/4/1 part 2
ItemPapua New Guinea – Independence celebrations1975A1838, 3080/1/1/4/1 part 3
ItemPapua New Guinea – Independence celebrations1975A1838, 3080/1/1/4/1 part 4
ItemPapua New Guinea – Independence celebrations1975A1838, 3080/1/1/4/1 part 5
ItemPapua New Guinea – Independence celebrations1975A1838, 3080/1/1/4/1 part 6
ItemPapua New Guinea – Independence celebrations1975A1838, 3080/1/1/4/1 part 7
ItemPapua New Guinea – Independence celebrations1975A1838, 3080/1/1/4/1 part 8
ItemPapua New Guinea – Independence celebrations1975A1838, 3080/1/1/4/1 annex
ItemPrime Minister's attendance at Papua New Guinea independence celebrations – briefing notes1975A1209, 1975/1780
ItemPapua New Guinea Independence Act 1975 (Assent copy)1975A1559, 1975/98
ItemIndependence gift for Papua New Guinea1975A5931, CL1626
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